Dog behavioral problems typically hearken back to their natural, canine instincts. These instincts equipped them for survival in the wild but don’t work so well in the house. A dog’s canine instinct urges him to protect his pack, reproduce and hunt for food. These are the three most important things for a wild canine to do. Understanding the canine psyche helps you identify the causes and solutions to your dog’s behavior problems.
If you’ve ever arrived home to a ticked-off neighbor telling you about your noisy dog, you’ll know how bad howling can be. Dogs are pack animals. Without their pack, they can’t hunt as effectively, don’t have protection in numbers and are less likely to find a mate. Your dog sees you and the family as his pack. So if he thinks you’ve become separated, he’ll howl to let you know. “Hey! I’m over here. Where are you?” This is what your dog’s howl says.
Barking serves as a natural, normal means of canine communication. Dogs bark to alert you to perceived threat, such as the letter carrier. They also bark when startled and to warn off intruders, such as the paperboy. They honestly think they’re doing a good thing by barking. But too much barking isn’t good for anyone, and even the dog himself becomes stressed if he thinks you’re ignoring him.
The trick is to get the dog to bark on command. Wait for a moment when you know he’s likely to bark, and just before he does it, say “speak.” Then give him a treat. With sufficient repetition, he’ll learn to bark when asked. With this command, you can show him the difference between good and bad barking.
Context and body language determine the meaning of a growl. A growl during play, accompanied by a wagging tail and “bowing” posture is most likely a sign of unfettered joy and excitement. A growl toward a stranger, accompanied by fixed gaze and curled upper lip, indicates aggression or impending attack. Animals avoid physical injury at all costs -- they don’t deal in bravado or score settling. When they fight, it’s serious. So they always give a warning first, to avoid risk of injury. The growl is your dog’s way of saying, “This is your final chance, carry on with what you’re doing and it’s on!”
Whether it’s toys, food or even people, dogs will protect their assets fiercely if they think there’s a threat. You may have noticed your dog gets antsy if you go near his bowl when he’s eating. You didn’t realize it, but you were threatening his food supply. You may also notice that your dog gathers up all his toys when a new dog visits. Again, he’s protecting what’s his.
Dogs pee to mark their territory. In the wild, it’s a quick way to avoid conflict. Only a brave or desperate dog hangs around in another dog’s territory. Some have such strong territorial instincts that they’ll pee in the house to alert others to their presence.
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